Magazine article Information Management

RAM Ruling Raises Privacy Issues

Magazine article Information Management

RAM Ruling Raises Privacy Issues

Article excerpt

A Los Angeles judge issued what some are calling a groundbreaking ruling in a copyright case that may shake up U.S. laws governing electronic discovery.

In Columbia Pictures Industries v. Bunnell, U.S. magistrate judge Jacqueline Chooljian ruled that a computer server's random-access memory (RAM) is a tangible document that can be stored, and the information it contains must be surrendered in a lawsuit--a decision that threatens Internet privacy and could impose huge discovery and recordkeeping burdens on companies, experts said.

According to CNet News, Chooljian issued the decision in a copyright infringement lawsuit filed in 2006 by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). According to Law.corn, six movie studios filed suit against TorrentSpy, which does not directly offer copyrighted video files to its visitors but acts as a search engine that helps users access them.

TorrentSpy--like many other sites--avoids logging visitors' Internet protocol (IP) addresses by switching off their servers' logging function, which typically records visitor addresses and user activity, according to CNet News. MPAA's attorneys argued this makes it easier to download pirated material anonymously, which the MPAA estimates costs the six largest U.S. studios more than $2 billion annually.

To prove that TorrentSpy was making it easier to share files, the studios convinced Chooljian that they must obtain TorrentSpy's user activity records--and the only way to do it was to cull the data from the RAM.

In addition to requiring TorrentSpy to turn over RAM data, the ruling requires TorrentSpy to begin logging user information but allows it to mask the IP addresses of its visitors. The order has been stayed pending TorrentSpy's appeal.

According to, this is the first case where a court considered RAM data as discoverable, which means that any company being sued could have to collect and turn it over at great expense. If the ruling stands, it would require search engines to create and store logs of its users' activities as part of e-discovery obligations in civil lawsuits.

Ken Withers, director of judicial education at The Sedona Conference, told CNet News he feared the decision may mean a "tremendous expansion" of the scope of discovery in civil litigation. According to Withers, the judge's order for TorrentSpy to create logs of user activity is unprecedented. …

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